Chapter 1: James Hook and the Lost Boys
🥈Second Place, Excerpts Category - Stupendous Compendious Awards
🥈Second Place, Short Story Category - Stupendous Compendious Awards
🥉 Third Place Overall - Stupendous Compendious Awards
CHAPTER 1: James Hook and the Lost Boys
Everything in Neverland is eternal, until it isn’t. Upon one’s arrival, the ticking of time ceases to exist in a never-ending summer haze. The aging process stops, despite the endless cycle of days into night and so forth.
This had been James Hook’s life since his arrival in the Land of Never. Not having kept a record of time, it’d been easy for him to forget he wasn’t necessarily the twenty-six-year-old he’d been when fate stole him away from the life he hadn’t desired. Yet, despite his stagnant physicality, he was a changed man.
James’ stomach clenched and his heart ached as he glanced back at the troop of six boys marching with determined, but haphazard abandon away from their Home Under the Ground and into the dense woods. After having fought in a handful of wars in the name of God, King, and Country, this was not his idea of a suitable venture for the lads under his keep. Yet, given the circumstances, he was sure they would follow him anyways. At least, by taking them along, he could keep an eye on them and hopefully, keep them out of most trouble.
“Stay close and keep it down.” His tone was serious as he addressed the group, looking each boy in the eye to be sure they understood. Then, taking one final look back at the huge and somewhat grotesquely gnarled Hangman’s Tree, James ensured the leafy camouflage was in place, hiding all visible entrances.
With minimal chatter coming from the underlings following in a line behind him as they started out, James’ mind settled again on the mission at hand. Once more, his stomach clenched in fear and anger. How dare that insolent child tear my love from me!
The group filed along through the moist undergrowth, over logs and around boulders—the boys splashing into the puddles. The mournful call of the Neverbird, flying somewhere to the south, only served to further James’ anxiety. After spending years sure that real love did not exist for him, he’d been fortunate to not only find true love, but marry the woman who loved him just as much in return. Now, she’d been kidnapped and he felt like his heart had been ripped from him.
What would my father think of me now? The random thought flitted through his mind as it did every now and then. He’d probably think me as silly as a codfish. Marrying a most unconventional woman because we loved each other. Now, here I am, on my way to steal her back from her kidnapper, and my only reinforcements are boys not even old enough to enlist in His Majesty’s army. Or is it Her Majesty’s? I believe Wendy had mentioned something about a queen on England’s throne now.
James’ father tried to set him up for success countless years ago, providing him with tutors and ultimately an appointment to Balliol College at Oxford. James wondered what use all that education was now that he was transplanted here from The Mainland. At least I’ve been able to put my fencing lessons to use, he mused, having won several duels against the pirates since his arrival.
Now, headed to war for the woman he loved, James recalled his no-nonsense father shipping him off to battle as an officer in England’s army soon after university to learn about duty and loyalty to his birthright. His only consolation was that beyond the night terrors that plagued his sleep ever since, his unwilling education in warfare provided him an upper hand now.
Looking back to be sure the small twins were still behind the pack of stair-step boys, James sighed. How he tried to be the father he wished he’d had. Stern and firm when necessary, but caring as well, guiding them to find their strengths and overcome their fears—everything unlike his own father, who instilled fear and focused solely on young James’ weaknesses. Yet, now he was leading them into battle. If something tragic happened to one of them, he wasn’t sure what he would do.
I doubt they even know what fear is, he thought with a slight bit of pride in the fellows who had called themselves Lost Boys for longer than anyone knew. All but Nibs and Curly were here when he arrived, and had been nearly feral until he took them in and instilled some discipline and order. His heart swelled with pride a bit more as he also recalled how they taught him how to let his inhibitions go, garnering his first real taste of what childhood should have been like—carefree, fun, and a tad on the wild side.
Unable to see the sun’s position in the sky for the thick foliage overhead, James pulled the large pocket watch from his trouser pocket, checking the hour for the hundredth time since their departure. Winding the timepiece, he stared at the face momentarily before shutting it once more.
“You are fond of your watch? Tootles, the eldest of the boys, quietly asked as he moved to walk in step with James.
“I suppose so,” James replied, wondering why the boy was suddenly interested in the mechanical artifact he always kept on him.
“Do you remember where it came from?” Slightly asked from behind them with a hopeful voice.
“Haven’t I told you boys this story before?” James threw a cockeyed smile behind him, knowing what was to come next.
“But we like your stories,” Curly and Nibs echoed one another, and the rest chattered in agreement.
James knew they were relatively safe here in the woods, and perhaps he did need to keep his mind elsewhere to still his worry. Relenting, he began, “When I was eight, my parents sent me off to boarding school so that—”
“What’s boardin’ school, Papa?” Twin Number One interrupted.
“Remember, that’s where adults send their children to learn about— stuff,” Slightly explained with feigned assurity before James picked up the story again with enthusiasm.
“Yes, I was sent away to learn all about ‘stuff.’ But as I began to board the enormous steam engine train, my father—”
“What’s a ‘train?’” Twin Number Two halted the story this time.
“Shhhh!” his five brothers shushed him before Tootles spoke up. “Let Father tell his story.”
James cleared his throat. “Anyways, I was getting ready to board this frightfully enormous train. My father shook my hand, then gave me a dreadfully boring-looking box. His mustache quivered like so.” James turned to the boys, walking backwards and pretending to look very serious with his index fingers touching under his nose in an apparent mustache. “And he said,“—in a much lowered voice—“‘James, make your family proud and get good grades. Your mother and I don’t want to hear that you’ve misbehaved.’ Then the train began to move down the tracks and I had to jump on before it left me behind. When I got to my seat at last, I unwrapped the box and inside was the most magnificent object I’d ever laid eyes on. The note inside read, ‘Dear James, A little something to ensure you’re never late for your appointments. Always, Your Father and Mother.’”
“Wow,” the twins cooed, seeming to have forgotten that they’d heard this story at least a dozen-hundred times.
Not wanting to reflect on his father anymore, nor be reminded of the anxiety he felt whenever he needed to be somewhere promptly, James changed the subject to the much more pertinent situation at hand. “So, when we arrive at Cannibal Cove, we need to be very quiet, boys. Captain Pan might have sent a landing party to shore and we don’t want them to know we’re there. We’ll find a nice spot to watch from and see if we can spot her. Then, depending on what things look like, we might need to send you, Nibs and Curly, to the mermaids’ lagoon to scout out things there.”
The six children sobered quickly, remembering that this was not one of their pretend adventures. Each walked a little taller, held their head a little higher, and swallowed whatever fear they might have been feeling. James had to admit, if there ever were a group of fine young men to whom he could trust in an attempt to rescue his beloved wife, it was this bunch of orphaned younglings. She apparently meant as much to them as she did to him. And she had long ago garnered his complete loyalty—and love.